The Justice Project Seminar Series

Contests over practices of justice in constitutional systems and publics that are placed on the margins or outside of such systems have and continue to shape the history and experience of democracy in the South Asian region. Especially in the last decade the theme of justice, in South Asia, has exploded as a major point of engagement and tension for governments, researchers and the public, with all three actors sorely unprepared for the speed with which the hydra headed theme of justice and restitution keeps emerging in different sites. While livelihood, health, ecology, agriculture, etc are some of the registers in which justice can be interrogated and its domains extended, violent conflict is the express paradigm that overwrites and underscores all these registers. At the heart of the struggles, theorizing and action on justice is the constitutive power of Constitutional law in South Asia, its silences and complicity with various power structures. In other words, the quest for justice in the south Asian context is marked by a peculiar lacuna: social groups and collective practices emerge from the operations of law, even as they set themselves against the ‘unjustness’ of law.

While the South Asian Constitutions themselves may have gone through different journeys marked by suspensions, disappearances, dilutions as well as assertions, the ideas and the contours around which justice has been brought back repeatedly into focus in this region remains peculiarly similar and this includes international covenants and global justice regimes.

This seminar series has emerged from a research project coordinated by Aakar, a Trust based in Delhi, aimed at building a series of dialogues across the five project countries through films and research papers that will map a range of contests on the idea and practices of justice as they take shape in different sites of South Asia. The project produced fourteen research papers and five films in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India that bring to the fore the most pressing concerns on justice in the respective countries. The papers and the films were produced by some of the best-known researchers documentary filmmakers of the region.

The Research
The research papers and the films produced within the project underline that as South Asia stumbles along the path of greater economic integration and convergence, what has been brought sharply into focus are the common and sometimes interconnected range of violent conflicts, social and cultural practices and, structures of governance. Entrenched patriarchal norms are just as common across the region as are informal and customary laws and practices that offer stiff challenges to Constitutional guarantees and procedures. The range of violent conflicts that the region is witnessing, while local in nature, have deep rooted connections to the history of the region. Patterns of governance draw on not only a shared colonial legacy but also Constitutional processes that have overlapping trajectories.

The research underscores the idea that a regional and comparative study in the area of justice makes possible a more nuanced understanding of state formation and practices in the region because of a shared past and present. It also allows us to explore the inextricable ways in which the quest for justice is linked to the future of the region and the continuing importance that contests will hold for this future.

The research project and the seminar series view negotiation of justice as the key intersections around which lives of people and democratic institutions encounter each other and create a range of effects that will continue to determine the future of societies and cultures of south Asia.

Objectives of the Seminar

  1. Feed into the debate on ways in which the courts and justice mechanisms can deal with the gendered nature of violence; revitalise institutions of dispute management by insisting that rules of evidence in cases of violation be strictly adhered to and enumerate the long term consequences of a failure of following these rules of evidence.
  2. Through visual and discursive research findings provide the necessary material that feeds into the work of recovery in post conflict situations.
  3. In exploring the ‘frontlines’ of conflict and violence, the seminar series will map the micro process of violence, its impact on families and local civic institutions. Suggest steps of amelioration look at conflict from a comparative lens.
  4. Explore the fundamental imbalances between the demands of the state and the strivings of civil groups. The seminar will seek through a dialogue between legal practitioners and civic groups to suggest ways in which legal and bureaucratic institutions of the state can better appreciate the corrosive power of violence to irremediably damage institutions.

The Justice Project is being coordinated and implemented by Aakar with support from International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

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